Isabelle Parasram writes…Shall we talk about race equality?

When is it a good time to talk about race equality? 

In political organisations, as with many others, that time can often be ‘tomorrow’

With the number of fires that any organisation has to fight every day – more so with political parties – diversity issues are often last on the agenda. 

But they can’t be the last on our agenda. 

As a barrister, I was recently asked, during an interview, to name the biggest legal issues likely to impact large organisations. 

My answer surprised the interviewer. 

It wasn’t breaches of data, financial misconduct or cyber crime. 

It was: ‘…diversity and sexual impropriety…’. 

The latter is, perhaps, down to my role as Special Investigation Counsel and similar work that I carry out elsewhere. 

The former is because I believe diversity to be one of the foundational markers of a successful organisation. 

But it seems that it will always be an issue that will remain on the back burner unless it becomes a fire to fight. 

Thankfully, that is already the case with many corporate institutions who have either embraced diversity because of the enormous benefits it brings or, disappointingly, have had to do so just to meet targets. 

Either way, it has made a difference.

The reality is this. 

Take a look at how we are perceived externally (quotes taken from The Operation Black Vote BaME Local Political Representation Audit, 2019):

‘Our findings raise some fundamental questions in general about belonging, having a voice, and how political parties are failing to understand their role to ensure inclusive representative democracy. Specifically both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are both in a really poor place when it comes to their BAME councillor representation. The percentage breakdown of BAME councillors presently is: Labour 84%, Conservatives 11%, Liberal Democrats 3% and 2% other affiliations.

BAME Councillors are disproportionately affiliated with the Labour Party at 84.2%, followed by the Conservative Party at 10.9%, the Liberal Democrats at 3.1%, and 1.8% are affiliated with other parties or independents.’

I have no doubt that almost everyone in the Lib Dems sees race equality as a key issue. Perhaps some even see it as a top priority. 

This is certainly the view of Lord Alderdice, who, in his 2018 Report entitled Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats stated: 

‘… if there is to be positive change, the approach to race and ethnic minorities has to become a top priority.’

What I doubt is that we know quite what to do about it. 

I’ve spoken to local Party Chairs who have said they don’t want to get it wrong, they don’t know where to start, they don’t want to appoint a Diversity Officer out of tokenism, they don’t have the resources…

All of these comments come from people who, at their core, want to do so good a job that they aren’t actually doing it. This isn’t because they don’t care or they don’t want to care. It’s because they are hesitant to make a start and then fail at something that – broadly speaking – they really want to do well.

I’ve been asked if it’s obligatory to appoint a Local Party Diversity Officer as per my recent email to Local Party Chairs. No, it isn’t. 

But if Local Parties want key information and support cascaded to them on diversity and, specifically race issues, then it would certainly be advisable. 

But that’s not the only reason. 

If we don’t take steps towards race equality (even small ones), we will never achieve race equality. 

We have just had outstanding results in the local elections. We’ve had our best results ever. We’ve held all of our Councils and gained control of many more. We have 703 Council seats gained. This includes re-election success for Helen Chuah the first Chinese Lib Dem Mayor and a serving Councillor for over 20 years (see photo). We have a predicted equivalent 19% national vote share.*

In other words, we have influence. We have the ability to bring change at a local level. We can lead by example, because voters are looking at us and taking note.

So, if you are a local Party Chair or, even if you aren’t, don’t wait until the Euro elections are over or until the new Party Leader has been appointed or until the Summer recess is complete. 

Start today – contact the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality (LDCRE) for support, find out if a key community leader will advise your Local Party on how to reach out to their community, invite me to meet with your Local Party so that I can hear your ideas and share mine.

Start with something small – even talking about race equality will help.

So, ‘When is it a good time to talk about race equality?’

My answer to that would be: ‘Today.’

*At the time of writing, I don’t have the  BaME or other diversity statistic of our elected councillors though it will be interesting to see what they are.

* Isabelle Parasram is the Vice President of the Liberal Democrats.

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4 Comments

  • Daisy Cooper 5th May '19 - 10:48am

    In 2016 in St Albans, 1 of our 17 LD Cllrs was a woman. 1 was BAME.

    Today, 3 yrs later, we have 9 women and 16 men overall; of which 2 BAME; 2 LGBT & some w/disabilities.

    Of our 9 new councillors elected on Thursday: 5 women and 4 men; one BAME; two LGBT (one woman, one man). All but two in 30s or 40s. (One younger and one older). This is good for succession planning.

    We still have some way to go to reach gender balance, but this happened because of leadership. Because a few of us created a candidate recruitment team and decided to put in the time and effort to find excellent candidates who collectively were as diverse as the community we strive to represent. And because we put in the effort to find them, they put in the effort to win. There are literally no excuses for not creating a more diverse team. None.

    #DiversityForTheWin

  • Daisy Cooper 5th May '19 - 5:51pm

    EDIT: we actually had two women Cllrs (not just one), in 2016!

  • Peter Hirst 7th May '19 - 4:28pm

    Speaking from Cheshire, I see myself responding unfavourably to a person’s skin colour and then tell myself it’s only that and feeling rather ashamed of myself. Familiarity is important so perhaps I should go for a regular walk in a more multi-racial community. I remember being very friendly with ethnic minorities during my university days.

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